Anyhow, I thought I'd kick off my first post of 2012 with a brief review of the newly released Meryl Streep biopic, 'The Iron Lady'.
FILM - THE IRON LADY (Theatrical Release)
For a film so abjectly geared towards emulating the success of films such as 'The Queen' in being a baity, awards-snatching Brit-biopic, it's almost entertaining as a morbid spectacle to see it fail so spectacularly. Where Stephen Frears and Peter Morgan had the savvy to revolve their 2006 film around a singular period of time, namely the death of Princess Diana and its aftermath, using that particular tragedy to explore the inner conflicts amongst the royal family, the discord between their traditional perspective and general public consensus, and the catalytic presence of a fresh-faced Tony Blair, in 'The Iron Lady' director Phyllida Lloyd (who in this film seems to have developed a bizarre fascination with unmotivated cutaways or close-ups, usually of hands or jewellery, being randomly thrown into a scene) and screenwriter Abi Morgan completely fail to provide any such grounding, and instead attempt to cover the entire life and career of controversial prime minister Margaret Thatcher whilst simultaneously depicting her spiralling sanity in present day.
Many biopics have succeeded in covering such a wide scope, even retrospectively, but the key fault in The Iron Lady is that it whips back and forth between present day and its flashbacks so ferociously that ultimately too much of Thatchers key history is given little-to-no contextual grounding or development and key moments of both her career and personal life are either omitted completely or feel completely fleeting and inconsequential. Far too much screen-time is wasted on the extremely ill-judged and repetitive present day vignettes which begin to take an almost cartoonish approach to chronicling Thatchers descent into 'madness' and completely contrast with the kinetic flurry of the flashbacks.
Most damningly, this is a film which dilutes and romanticises the Thatcher character and legacy even as it seeks to aggrandise or sympathise with it. I am not about to divulge into personal political opinions or even my outlook on her time as prime minister, but the films sentimentalised perspective on key moments, and how frequently controversial or downright inexcusable actions and decisions are depicted as having been unavoidable or co-erced/influenced by pantomime characatures of both the opposition and fellow party members, thus trying to constantly ground the central character as some sort of plighted vigilante, completely fails to ring true. The closest the film comes to portraying her as a potentially unlikeable individual without justifying it in some way is when she heatedly cancels a cabinet meeting due to some spelling mistakes in a timetable, and even then we are then subjected to scenes of said members of parliament naysaying and gossiping in huddles like discontent teenagers in Thatcher's presence, even visually referencing a throwback to some female bullies from her youth. Likewise, at a key moment in the film where she is pondering a crucial and controversial decision, Richard E. Grant's completely underdeveloped Michael Heseltine, who will go on to challenge Thatcher as leader of the party and is thus painting out to be some sort of dubious untrustworthy figure, is literally shown to be inexplicably circling the room and Thatcher herself in the manner of a pantomime ne'er-do-well. It is probably but for Grant's own instincts that Lloyd didn't have him twizzling his moustache or rattling his fingers together.
Fortunately, for all of its historical, political, moral and indeed cinemtatic faux pas, the films one saving grace is an extremely noteworthy one - and unsurprisingly it is the central performance by Meryl Streep. In an astonishing transformative, and one daresay bordering on career-best, performance, Streep is faultless throughout, commanding the look, voice and nuances of Thatcher immediately and further demonstrating her completely incomparable versatility. Jim Broadbent puts in sterling support as her husband Denis Thatcher, but for far too much of the flashbacks he is given little more to do than repeat the same gleaming smile from the crowds, and when we return to present day his character and involvement in Margaret's descent into madness is painted with such broad, simplistic strokes he has little to sink his teeth into, a great pity when he demonstrated so beautifully what he is capable of doing with a not too dissimilar role in 2001's 'Iris'.
It is hugely regrettable that Streep, Broadbent and company could not have been attached to such a project with a more daring, savvy director and a screenwriter with more of an understanding of how it is not an overload of information or event that engages an audience, but rather the plight and journey of it's characters - conflicts we care about through our own investment and understanding of the people we are seeing on screen, and not just a blur of situations we have very briefly explained and are TOLD they are problematic or crises before zooming on to the next. I firmly believe there could have been an excellent film made revolving around the Falklands crisis and the sinking of the Belgrano in taking 'The Queen's' more focused, character-centric approach, but instead the result was an extremely mishandled and romanticised look at the career of one of Britain's most divisive and (in)famous prime ministers. As a film it is a shambled mess, but one that is arguably worth enduring for it's searing central performance alone.
(A)musing Rating - * *